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Shipping containers as housing

December 2, 2013

An idea whose time is now: container housing.   (It’s actually been around for awhile; ask Michael Geller.)

Inspiration Green makes the case:

Approximately 30 million steel shipping containers are in existence, filled and floating, or standing about empty in a port. Eight feet wide by 8.5 feet high, and either 20 or 40 feet long, the steel shipping container has been the globally standardized transportation module since 1956.

Costs of shipping empty containers back to their origin are high, so oft times the containers sit unused in ports. If one lives near a port with abundant containers, then the energy required to transport the steel container to a local building site will be lower than an inland location, far from the port.

But buyer beware, as that used container might have been sprayed with insecticides or fungicides inside, and coated with lead or heavy metal paints on the outside.

Examples from around the world in the article from Inspiration Green, and from io9: Great homes made from shipping containers

Container 1

Two shipping containers surround a taller common space. The containers house sleeping and work areas while the center space hosts dining, living and a loft above. The Studio H:T project in Nederland, Colorado is off-the-grid


 Container 2

Crossbox House, by CG Architectes Pont-Péan, France, 2009


Container 3

London Container City, by Urban Space Management, London, UK from 2001.


Container 4

A wooden sided container sits atop an existing stone foundation in Portugal.


Container 5

The NRW-Forum Düsseldorf invited renowned architects, designers, and artists from around the world to submit existing and new designs for container architecture.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2013 1:07 pm

    Frankly, I don’t see the point. The outer shell is the cheapest part of any low rise building. With the metal shell of most containers insulation is required “big time”. Plumbing, the most costly part of such structures remains unaddressed. Add to that that the interior dimensions are highly restrictive and insertion of windows costly. The designs may be attractive from the outside, but uncomfortable to live in with only limited savings in construction, – if any

  2. December 2, 2013 1:29 pm

    PS to my previous comment: I can see the use of such containers as temporary shelters in case of catastrophes, such as the recent one in the Philippines in connection with temporary communal plumbing. But even there the logistics of getting then to the crisis areas would probably make tents much more cost effective in most cases, unless there is a deposit of unused containers nearby.

  3. ChangingCity permalink
    December 2, 2013 8:26 pm

    Vancouver’s first is on Alexander Street – Apparently there are more projects in the design stage.

  4. mike0123 permalink
    December 2, 2013 9:58 pm

    The cost of land in Vancouver is high. The cost of construction is not out of the ordinary. Shipping containers do not make better use of land than other forms of construction. This solution does nothing to solve our problem.

    Shipping containers might make some sense as housing in places where the cost of labour, especially in the trades, is very high compared to the cost of land. In places where pre-built, modular housing is built because of the locally high cost of labour, there are much cheaper options than shipping containers. Oil sands camps are mostly made out of portables arranged side by side, for example, and sometimes stacked three high.

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